Presbyterian Church - USA, July 2010

RESOLUTION 11-06

Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call

Adopted by the 219th General Assembly (2010) by Affirmation (voice vote)

Upon Unanimous Recommendation of Committee (counted vote)

 

To awaken members and communities to the faith dimensions of our on-going tragedy:

1. Encourage the church at every level—from individual member to congregation, presbytery, synod, and national church—to become informed and active in preventing gun violence, to provide pastoral care for victims of gun violence, and to seek a spiritual response of grief and repentance, grace and courage to resist that violence and celebrate the Lord and Giver of Life. This proposal does not preclude the legal use of firearms for huntin or sports-related purposes.

2. That the church take responsibility to build public awareness of gun violence and the epidemic of preventable gun-related deaths, totaling more than 620,000 over the past twenty years, with hundreds of thousands more wounded. Even while taking the focused and urgent efforts below to achieve practical solutions, that the councils and congregations welcome discussion from all viewpoints, and that the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy review and summarize responses for the 220th General Assembly (2012). 3. That congregations address the temptation to gun suicide and murder-suicide among both old and young people, and that pastors especially present practical theologies of peace as alternatives to fantasies of power, idolatries of force, strategies of vengeance, and the gravitational pull of nihilism or depression.

4. That the church liturgies not only call for periodic preaching on gun violence but also contain prayers for the victims and perpetrators of gun violence and confession of our own complicity in the perpetuation and toleration of violence in all its forms in the culture. To assist congregations and members in supporting focused local and state initiatives:

5. That, to embody its spiritual awakening in response to this tragic devaluing of life, the church work to build a movement of urban-suburban ecumenical partnerships in order to better understand the problem of gun violence and take more effective action.

6. That local congregations lead or join in ecumenical gatherings for public prayer at sites where gun violence has occurred and to support, or assist with, appropriate law-enforcement guidance, ―ceasefire,‖ and other urban gang intervention strategies based on the public health model of addressing the most vulnerable populations.

7. That the church, particularly in its congregations, work with local law-enforcement agencies and community groups to identify gun shops that engage in retail practices designed to circumvent laws on gun sales and ownership, encourage full legal compliance, and support higher marketing standards, and if necessary, take nonviolent action against gun shops and gun shows that are known to sell guns that end up in crime, using the faith-based campaign of Heeding God’s Call, a group active in Pennsylvania as an example.

8. That the church at presbytery, synod, and General Assembly levels, and in cooperation with colleges, universities, and seminaries, sponsor regular educational and summer conference events on gun violence and its prevention, in order to raise the awareness of the faith community and call it to informed action.

9. Due to the recent expanded provisions in concealed carry laws in many states that now allow guns to be carried openly, including into houses of worship, we recommend that churches and other entities prominently display signs that prohibit carrying guns onto their property.

10. That the church encourage citizens, hunters, and law-enforcement officials who regularly handle weapons properly to be wise examples in reducing risks and teaching how to prevent the misuse of deadly force.

11. That the church direct and support its Washington office and other advocacy bodies to continue to advocate for the policies previously approved by PC(USA) General Assemblies and that can receive wide public support to a. limit legal personal gun acquisition to one handgun a month; b. require licensing, registration, and waiting periods to allow comprehensive background checks, and cooling-off periods, for all guns sold; c. close the ―gun show loophole‖ by requiring background checks for all gun buyers; d. ban semiautomatic assault weapons, armor piercing handgun ammunition, and .50 caliber sniper rifles; e. advocate for new technologies to aid law-enforcement agencies to trace crime guns and promote public safety; f. raise the age for handgun ownership to the age of twenty-one; and g. eliminate the Tiahrt Amendment to annual appropriations for the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) that impedes local law enforcement agencies in their use of gun traces and requires the Justice Department to destroy within two hours the record of a buyer whose NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) check was approved.

12. Following the recommendations of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, to support laws to ―require judges and law enforcement to remove guns from situations of domestic violence, as well as from people whose adjudicated mental illness, drug use, or previous criminal record suggests the possibility of violence, ‖ and to increase police training in nonviolent proactive intervention.1

13. To urge the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) to develop a corporate engagement strategy for working with corporations in which the church may be invested that are producers or distributors of weapons that do not comply with its policies on gun violence prevention, recommending shareholder proposals and divestment actions appropriate to the integrity and effectiveness the church seeks. 14. That the Compassion, Peace, and Justice and Racial Ethnic Ministries areas include in their ongoing strategic reflection means through which church-wide faithfulness to these commitments can be monitored, supported, encouraged, and resourced, in order to strengthen especially those congregations most exposed to gun violence, and that appropriate resources continue to be made available to help in worship, pastoral care, and public policy work.

15. That councils of the church seek to partner with other faith institutions to create and sustain a national, activist faith-based social movement to save thousands of lives yearly.

16. That the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly be directed to post this report on-line, distribute it through the social witness CD, and print it in limited quantity for councils, congregations, and other educational and advocacy use.

Executive Summary

[Note: For full rationale/report, see acswp-gun-violence-full-rationale.pdf under "Additional Resources."]

This resolution is in response to the following referral: 2008 Referral: Item 09-05. Direct the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy to Prepare a Comprehensive Study on Gun Violence—From the 218th General Assembly (2008) (Minutes, 2008, Part I, p. 860).

Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call challenges our society’s fatalism and numbness in accepting the highest gun death rates in the world, reviews previous efforts and positions of the churches, and proposes a new ―spiritual awakening‖ approach: a church-related, community-based strategy inspired by ―Heeding God’s Call‖ in Philadelphia and similar groups in Richmond, Virginia, and central New Jersey. The report looks at our culture of violence-acceptance, with its undercurrents of fear and desperation, including high rates of gun use in male suicide. In the average year, more than 100,000 are shot by guns. In 2006, 30,896 of those victims died. According to statistics compiled by the Brady Campaign, 16,883 of these deaths were suicides, including more than 2,000 young people (ages 10–242). The report also looks at the gun violence epidemic in our inner cities, drawing on public health and community policing perspectives to focus on the spread of illegal weapons. This response to the request of the 218th General Assembly (2010) for a ―Reformed theology of proactive, constructive nonviolence,‖ honors the value of human life, recognizes institutional interests and sin in the proliferation of urban and suburban violence, and encourages a renewal of social solidarity to overcome the distrust and disconnection that violence exploits. The organizing model both addresses gun violence concretely and rebuilds community, giving a strong place to churches involved, and addresses why previous gun violence prevention efforts have not succeeded, despite high levels of public support for reasonable violence prevention measures.

 

Endnotes 1. See ―Taking a Stand: Reducing Gun Violence in Our Communities,‖ a report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police 2007 Great Lakes Summit on Gun Violence: p. 6. http://www.theiacp.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=%2Fs0LiOkJK5Q%3D&tabid=87. 2. http://www.bradycampaign.org/facts/gunviolence/GVSuicide.